A pause on issuing new child-care licences in Nova Scotia is threatening to put a daycare in Fall River out of business.
Lindsay Awalt, a co-owner and co-operator of the Fall River Childcare Centre, said the facility is at risk for closure if it can't modify its licence to allow children between the ages of 18 months and 12 years.
Its current licence only covers a part-day school-age program, but Awalt said it's not enough to pay the bills.
"The risk of closure is definitely there with such a high overhead of staff costs, rent and utilities. The chance of us closing without this proper licence in place is a definite yes," Awalt said.
The centre started the process of changing its licence back in May and completed renovations required by the fire department and the provincial Department of Health.
The owners were also in contact with the province and, up until a month ago, it seemed as though the licence change would go ahead. Then they heard from the province there would be no new licences granted while the province reviews a Canada-wide child-care plan. It's unclear when licence approval will resume.
The $605-million agreement between Ottawa and Nova Scotia will result in $10-a-day child care in the province by 2026. The deal also includes cutting daycare fees in half by the end of 2022.
Awalt said her facility needs to change its licence sooner. She said there are nine families she knows of in the area that need child care now for children 18 months and older.
"We had a parent look for daycare for over a year before she found us. It's a pretty big need in our community. Fall River has a lot of growing development," said Awalt.
Stephanie Pennell hoped her 2½-year-old daughter would be able to go to Fall River Childcare Centre, but it won't happen unless the licence changes.
Pennell is working from home, so she is able to look after her daughter. But she said other families in the area aren't able to do the same.
"There are other parents who are having to take time off work, call in sick, take time without pay because there are no other viable options in the Fall River area," Pennell said.
She added it doesn't make sense to drive 30 minutes to another community for daycare. She said the area is growing and all parents should have access to a licensed facility.
Becky Druhan, the province's minister of education and early childhood development, said the pause on issuing new child-care licences is necessary in making sure the child-care agreement rolls out properly.
"We need to make sure we take all the steps that we need to, to be in compliance with the agreement to make sure we're ready to go with it," Druhan said.
The minister said her department recently issued expressions of interest to child-care facilities that may want to expand in the future.
"If the operator has questions about what that path looks like for them, what a timeline looks like for them, I really encourage them to co-operate and work with us and have those conversations," she said.
Druhan also challenged the idea that there aren't enough spaces at licensed facilities for toddlers in the Fall River area, saying there are spots available in the community.
Awalt said she is hoping to hear from the province by the end of the week. If she doesn't, she said the centre will take a month to crunch the numbers and see if it's still possible to operate.
With the introduction of $10-a-day child care still years away, Awalt said the government's decision not to approve licences is perplexing.
"It doesn't make sense as to why our licence is being held now," she said.
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